Free Agent Fit: Does Alex Cobb make sense for Blue Jays?

Tampa Bay Rays' Alex Cobb pitches to the Boston Red Sox during the first inning on Saturday, Sept. 16, 2017, in St. Petersburg, Fla. (Chris O'Meara/AP)

During the off-season we’ll be taking a closer look at some potential free agent targets for the Toronto Blue Jays. Today it’s Alex Cobb.

Check out our other free agent fits:

Brandon Morrow
Eduardo Nunez
Neil Walker

Tyler Chatwood
Jay Bruce

Player: Alex Cobb | Age: 30
Position: SP
Throws: Right
2017 stats: 29 GS | IP 179.1 | ERA 3.66 | FIP 4.16 | WHIP: 1.221 | K/9: 6.4

MLB Trade Rumors Signing Prediction

Minnesota Twins. Four years, $48 million.

Why he’s a potential fit for the Blue Jays

Cobb would certainly slot in nicely as Toronto’s fifth starter, assuming Aaron Sanchez is healthy and able to put 2017’s blister issues behind him. That would give the Blue Jays a very sound rotation of Marcus Stroman, J.A. Happ, Marco Estrada, Sanchez and Cobb, with Joe Biagini and a crop of youngsters led by Ryan Borucki and Thomas Pannone awaiting a call at triple-A.

The 2017 season was Cobb’s first full campaign since having Tommy John surgery in May 2015. He posted a 3.66 ERA over 179.1 innings and demonstrated the best command of his career, allowing only 2.2 BB/9. His final two months were particularly strong as Cobb posted a 2.82 ERA over seven starts, striking out a batter an inning.

Cobb gets plenty of groundballs (his 47.8 per cent groundball rate this year was above the MLB average although slightly down from his 54 per cent career mark) and he’s done a good job of limiting home runs over his career, which are both good things for a pitcher starting half his games at Rogers Centre.

Why he might not be a fit for the Blue Jays

Durability has been a persistent concern for Cobb throughout his career — the 179.1 innings he threw in 2017 were a career high and he’s only surpassed 150 innings in a season twice.

And while his late-season renaissance was promising, Cobb has still never quite returned to the form he displayed prior to having surgery. In 81 starts before going under the knife, Cobb posted a 3.21 ERA and 7.7 K/9. In 34 starts post-operation, Cobb has a 4.20 ERA and 6.4 K/9.

The strikeout dip has been the most notable difference, as Cobb simply hasn’t gotten swing-and-miss like he used to. In 2014, his final season before surgery, Cobb’s swinging strike rate was 10.6 per cent. When he returned in 2016 it plummeted to 7.5 per cent, and dropped even further to 6.7 per cent in 2017.

Cobb’s velocity is down slightly since before surgery, but not significantly, and his strikeout numbers went up late last year so it’s possible he’ll rediscover his ability to miss bats going forward. Of course, it’s also possible Cobb’s best days are behind him and he’s just not the same guy anymore. That’s the risk you take in free agency.

Cobb also received a qualifying offer, meaning the Blue Jays would face an additional draft pick cost if they signed him. Considering how much emphasis the Blue Jays front office places on building through the draft, it’s hard to foresee them being comfortable giving up the pick unless it was for a player they strongly covet.

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The latest buzz

After they took Doug Fister off the board, MLB Network’s Jon Morosi reported the Texas Rangers were showing interest in Cobb to help round out their rotation. Earlier this month, Morosi reported that the Baltimore Orioles are interested in Cobb as well. And it doesn’t stop there, as Peter Gammons recently reported that “the industry consensus” is the New York Yankees and Chicago Cubs will engage in a bidding war over Cobb. As the third or fourth best free-agent pitcher available (depending on how you feel about Lance Lynn) it appears Cobb will have plenty of interest as the off-season heats up.